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The Nature Challenge

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When we read about health issues in the newspaper or seestories on TV, the focus is almost always on the potential benefits of the latest medical "breakthrough, such as an exciting new drug, technique or technology.

When we read about health issues in the newspaper or seestories on TV, the focus is almost always on the potential benefits of the latest medical "breakthrough," such as an exciting new drug, technique or technology. In fact, if all our knowledge about physical health was derived from advertisements, commercials and media reports, we would probably conclude that our lives were entirely dependent on pharmaceutical companies, surgeries and high-tech medical devices.

Yet instinctively, we all know this is wrong. While modern medicine has made impressive advances and contributed to increased longevity, our health is still intimately tied to the health of the world around us. The quality of the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink all reflect the state of the globe's ecosystems.

This connection goes far beyond the fact that toxins in our air, water and soils can make us sick. At a deeper level, everything we consider a necessity of modern life from laptop computers and life-saving medicines, to lattes and designer clothes is a product of the earth. As human beings, we use our creativity to mould natural resources into different products, but
the earth is their ultimate source. The earth provides all raw materials needed to make our goods, as well as the energy needed to process and manufacture them.

But with some 6.2 billion people now sharing the planet, we've stretched many of our natural systems to the breaking point. We are changing our climate by adding too much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. We're taking fish from the seas faster than stocks can replenish. We're cutting our forests faster than they can grow. We're pushing nature to its limits. If we don't change our ways, our children and grandchildren will be left with an increasingly unhealthy and unstable world.

Preserving Our World

It isn't too late to change, but we have to start now. We need a new bottom line, one of environmental sustainability. Nature is too important to our health and well-being to be shoved into some dusty government ministry or feel-good corporate department. We need to take nature back.

We can start by taking small steps in our everyday lives. Personal actions may seem inconsequential, but if we tell others to spread the word and thousands of people get involved, the effect will be profound. What's more, when political and business leaders see large numbers of individuals taking action, they will notice and change their policies to reflect these new
priorities.

So where do we start? My foundation has researched the top 10 ways individuals can help conserve nature. I'm challenging all Canadians to pick at least three of the top 10 actions and commit to doing them over the next year. We're calling it the Nature Challenge and you can sign up at davidsuzuki.org.

The 10 challenges cover three main aspects of our everyday lives where we live, what we eat and how we get around. And they aren't that difficult! Conserving nature does not mean we have to live in caves, take cold showers and eat gruel. It just means that we have to be smarter about the way we do things especially the way we use energy.

Take the first challenge, for example. This simple task is to reduce home energy use by 10 per cent. Right off the top, this also reduces our energy bills by 10 per cent, which means we have more money to spend on things we care about. It also means reduced greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and reduced air pollution. It does not mean that we have to shiver in the dark. By making a few simple changes, such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and installing an electronic thermostat, we can accomplish this goal without drastically changing our lifestyles. And there are many, many other ways to reduce home energy use that can really add upWe're pushing nature to its limits. If we don't change our ways, our children and grandchildren will be left with an increasingly unhealthy and
unstable world.

Promoting Fuel Efficiency

Our biggest energy consumer actually sits in our driveways the family car. It's not uncommon for conscientious families to buy organic food, recycle religiously and even donate to environmental organizations, yet still drive gas-guzzling vehicles. Many people don't realize how dangerous big SUVs can be, or that they have been designed to exploit fuel-efficiency regulatory
loopholes that allow them to burn more gasoline and pollute more. Think back to 1980 if you can! The world was a very different place back then. But what hasn't changed is the average fuel efficiency of a new vehicle. It is the same today as it was 23 years ago. And it's going backwards. Average fuel consumption of the 2003 model fleet is actually worse than it was for 2002. This is why choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle is so important. New gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles offer the greatest efficiency, but there are lots of less expensive models that are also better for your wallet and the air we breathe.

Even if you drive a fuel-efficient car, driving less will help our air and the climate. Another Nature Challenge is to try carpooling, walking, riding a bike or taking transit to work or school once a week. Fewer cars on the road not only reduces pollution, but it also reduces the need to build
bigger roads, make more parking spaces and cover yet more of our cities in asphalt. If more people start taking transit, walking or cycling, it will also pressure governments to devote additional resources to these alternatives, which will encourage even more people to take advantage of them.

The Preserving Plate

What we eat also has a big impact on nature. Many common foods travel thousands of kilometres to get to our plates. For example, you can visit your local market and see local apples sitting next to apples from New Zealand and they are the same price! Clearly, the environmental damage of shipping these apples halfway around the world from climate change, to air and water pollution is not factored into the cost. Nature is still considered free. So one of the challenges is to eat local food as much as possible. Eating local, organic food is best. Industrial farming uses more resources than organic farming and causes other problems by depending on large amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Meat production also takes a toll on nature. In general, producing meat uses far more resources from fossil fuels to water than producing vegetables and grains. Concentrating meat production in feedlots also creates vast amounts of sewage the same amount as small cities. But there are no federal guidelines on disposing of this waste! Often, sewage overwhelms the surrounding land's capacity to absorb it and ends up polluting rivers, lakes, streams and even drinking water. To help reduce these problems, one of the challenges is to eat less meat.

The rest of the top 10 list includes things such as choosing energy-efficient appliances, eliminating pesticides from our homes and gardens, and supporting transportation alternatives in our communities. But the last challenge may be the most important of all getting involved and
telling others. Tell your friends and family what you are doing and why. Write your local newspapers or politicians and tell them why you are taking a stand. Let them know that providing a clean, healthy future to your children and grandchildren is important to you.

If enough people get involved and speak up, a healthy future will become important to our politicians, too. Right now, they are still working on an old model, an outdated idea that nature is something "out there something we can take care of through bureaucratic shuffling or a committee. But deep down, they know this isn't true. They know a clean, healthy future for
Canadians depends on a healthy environment. We just have to remind them.

Top 10 Challenges

  1. Reduce home energy use by 10 per cent.
  2. Choose energy-efficient homes and appliances.
  3. Replace dangerous pesticides with alternatives.
  4. Eat meat-free meals once a week.
  5. Buy locally grown and produced food.
  6. Choose a fuel-efficient vehicle.
  7. Walk, bike, carpool or take the transit.
  8. Choose a home close to work or school.
  9. Support car-free alternatives.
  10. Get involved and stay involved!

What We do to Nature

Everything we consider a necessity of modern life is a product of the earth. But with some 6.2 billion people now sharing the planet, we've stretched many of our natural systems to the breaking point.

We are changing our climate by adding too much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. We're taking fish from the seas faster than stocks can replenish. We're cutting our forests faster than they can grow.

Industrial farming uses more resources than organic farming and causes other problems by depending on large amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

When we read about health issues or see stories on TV, the focus is almost always on the potential benefits of the latest medical "breakthrough," such as an exciting new drug, technique or technology. Yet instinctively, we all know that our health is intimately tied to the health of the world around us.

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